Health Minister Carla Vizzotti says that the government is disturbed by the rise in Covid-19 infections across the region and will tighten border controls and “care measures” as a result.
President Alberto Fernández on Friday headed a new meeting of the Vaccination Committee against coronavirus at the Casa Rosada, at which officials admitted to an official "concern" about the sustained increase of Covid-19 cases in the region.
"There is a sustained and worrying increase in countries across the region," said Vizzotti, who went on to express concerns over new strains of the virus that are circulating.
The minister said the government recommended that citizens avoid travelling to nations, such as Brazil, where new strains of Covid-19 are circulating. The Fernández administration would begin issuing warnings "about the regional situation and discouraging the population from travelling to places where there are new variants."
She said, however, that citizens would not be "prohibited" from leaving the country, should they need to travel urgently for work or family reasons.
According to official data, there are around 7,5000 Argentines who left the country to travel to Brazil in recent weeks who have not yet reutnred.
On Monday WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared a health emergency for all Latin America after a new variant of Covid-19 was detected in Brazil.
"The situation is very serious and we are very worried. Brazil’s health measures should be aggressive while at the same time advancing in vaccination," said the WHO chief while adding: "The worry not only concerns Brazil but also its neighbours" and pointing out: "And that’s almost all South America."
On Thursday the government restricted flights to Europe, the United States, Brazil and several Latin American countries in a bid to keep the new strains of Covid-19 at bay.
Vizzotti said the government wanted to “delay an increase in cases [in Argentina] as long as possible,” in order to “vaccinate more people.” The minister affirmed that all controls and precautions would be multiplied, asserting that the protocols applied thus far "had had a very positive impact."
Meanwhile the vaccination campaign continues to suffer delay from the slow arrival of doses with the recent “VIP vaccine” scandal providing an extra incentive to speed up inoculation before the arrival of the second wave of Covid-19.
Also in attendance at the meeting were Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero and ministers Sabina Frederic (Security), Eduardo de Pedro (Interior), Agustín Rossi (Defence), Daniel Arroyo (Social Welfare), ; Felipe Solá (Foreign Affairs), Mario Meoni (Transport) and Matías Lammens (Tourism and Sports).
On Thursday, the government rolled over the existing health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic until the end of 2021, extending a decree signed by President Alberto Fernández.
The health emergency was initially declared by the government exactly a year ago yesterday via Decree N° 260, which extended "for the period of one year the public health emergency established by Law 27.541 in view of the pandemic declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in relation to coronavirus Covid-19," also naming the Health Ministry as "the authority of application."
The health emergency will thus continue nationwide for over 21 months at least.
"During the time since the start of the policies adopted to protect the health of the population, the state has not only improved the capacity of the health system and increased the acquisition of the necessary equipment but also simultaneously implemented measures to soften the socio-economic impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic," the government said in the decree.
The government again "recommends restricting journeys to or from the affected zones and those with the greatest risk, authorising the corresponding instances to intervene to implement this restriction."
The decree also authorises "contracting ex-officials or retired staff, exempting them from the régime of incompatibilities in public administration."
"In the face of the health and epidemiological crisis, a régime of certifying provisional specialists who have yet to complete their degrees in health sciences is established, following the intervention of the Health Ministry and certification by healthcare establishments, as required," adds the decree.
Attention once again fell on Argentina’s mass vaccination programme this week, with Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta coming in for criticism after elderly porteños were left queuing for jabs in the sun for hours.
The mayor was forced onto the defensive after chaotic scenes of long queues and tired OAPs lined up outside the City’s Luna Park stadium were broadcast across news channels.
Declaring that he would “never make caring for people a political issue,” Rodríguez Larreta rejected criticism that vaccines were not given out quick enough and said the City’s operation was dependent on “the rate of delivery” of doses from the national government.
"We are going to complete [vaccination] those over 80 and those over 70 are going to start later," he said, when quizzed about why registration sites were not open for those in their seventies.
More than 6,000 individuals aged over 80 received jabs at vaccination centres in the City on Tuesday, with more following on Wednesday.
As of Friday 6pm, the national government had distributed more than 3.4 million vaccine doses from the 4.05 million currently in the country. A total of 179,131 shots were administered Friday, according to the Public Vaccination Monitor, while the total for the week was 551,507.
Some 1.8 million have now been given their first dose, with 406,000 also receiving the second. On Thursday alone, a record 149,000 shots were given.
On Wednesday, the Fernández administration confirmed that another three million doses of the jab produced by the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm would arrive in Argentina next week.
The government, which says it is in talks to receive more vaccines from various supplies, is due to take delivery of 1.944 million does of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University jab over the next three months, via the WHO’s Covax mechanism.